The Schaeffler Group-owned special machinery department, a globally operating automotive and industrial supplier, is one of the major manufacturers of customized production facilities, also in comparison to the external market. More than 1,800 employees at 16 locations develop, construct and maintain the special machinery used in Schaeffler plants worldwide, especially assembly systems, testing equipment and handling systems. Just like the Schaeffler products themselves, the special machinery also has to evolve from pure mechanics to mechatronic systems to IT-integrated solutions. A comprehensive digitalization strategy for the special machinery department is the basis for its own transformation.
On the way to digitalization, Schaeffler special machinery in Erlangen, Germany, has already made great strides. Applications? Identified. Objectives? Precisely formulated, at the same time ambitious yet realistic. Fundamental technical questions? Clarified. At the moment, the team around Holger Auernheimer and Stefan Soutschek, which is helping to shape the digital transformation, is concerned with the question of how digitalization is changing work. As always, the two do not just want to watch, but actively shape – to achieve value for the company and the internal customers. This applies to one’s own surroundings and the organization of work in the sense of “New Work”, because the separate handling of tasks by different specialist departments no longer functions. It is, of course, also about the technical aspects, such as the human-machine communication. In the future, machines at Schaeffler are to no longer display errors, but, for example, intelligently point out ways to solve problems. “But it would be even better,” says Stefan Soutschek, “if the machines could optimize themselves through an adaptive parameterization in such a way that problems do not even occur.” User-centered development instead of “from engineers for engineers” – especially if in the end, no engineers work there at all – is a central guiding principle, as are the modularization and interconnectivity of components. Accordingly, the configuration of the machines has radically changed – the operator guidance and maintenance steps are communicated through their design.
Global standards as prerequisite for a comprehensive data model
An important advantage of Schaeffler’s
special machinery department is the possibility to standardize the global
concepts for digitalization and connectivity. This can prevent an unmanageable
number of implementations, especially with regard to the data models. Here, the
semantic description of the data plays a crucial role – so that actual
information arrives in the cloud. Whether this is realized with OPC UA or
another technology is of secondary importance to Schaeffler – the modeling and
description of the data is the decisive element for generating added value. When
it comes to data access, Schaeffler special machinery enjoys a strategic
advantage – it is both supplier and part of the customer and operator, which
allows practically unlimited access to all data. Both integrated and
complementary solutions are important – for example, a communications processor
(CP) for a new machine with SIMATIC S7-1500, or an industrial IoT gateway, such
as the new SIMATIC CloudConnect 7, for existing machines. However, “production
first” always applies – the cycle times of the machines must not be affected.
Rules in the gateways regulating the access to the data are therefore needed.
The data model is but one aspect, another
is the architecture of the systems. Schaeffler special machinery is pushing
service-oriented approaches here, instead of large monolithic software blocks –
simply to create an intrinsic openness for innovation. “Every day, there are
three new ideas on how things can be linked,” says Stefan Soutschek. And you
have to establish the requisite conditions, as new disruptive approaches emerge
– a powerful infrastructure helps here to enable an end-to-end communication
from the sensor to the cloud. This requires above all scalable solutions that
adapt to the respective use case. In the case of a handheld measuring station,
the processing in the cloud suggests itself; if processes have to be influenced
in sync with the machines, edge computing is needed. But without having to
reprogram the algorithm. It is similar with artificial intelligence: Due to the
large amount of data, the training of the models has to be performed in the
cloud, their application – for example, as a decision tree – will also take
place one after another, if it has to be quick. And all of these technologies
also have to be integrated into existing machines – so that the success of
digitalization can also be achieved with the installed base.
Wide range of implementation projects
The implementation projects are diverse and
relate to both the actual machines and the products produced with them. For example,
one project concerns the optimization of machines, which can improve itself by
evaluating the measurement technology in the plant. This goes far beyond
preventive maintenance, because it aims at eliminating specific maintenance
work. A second topic concerns predictive production quality. The idea behind
it: If measurement data on the product is already continuously collected
throughout the facility, why does every product still have to undergo a final
inspection? Rather, could it be possible to predict the product quality with a
certain probability on the basis of the information collected, and then focus
only on those products where a possible malfunction was predicted? And then to
precisely check the critical parameters detected by the algorithm? After all,
it is about the machines themselves, or more specifically, the commissioning.
As a result of the special machinery department closely collaborating with its
internal customers and thus receiving information about the future product
range early on, it is now possible to develop the machine in parallel to the
new product. Simulations help to greatly shorten the commissioning times of the
plants. Holger Auernheimer speaks of 20 percent, which the virtual
commissioning already helps save today – with further potential.
Security is indispensable – even if it
renders an idea not feasible
However, despite the openness of the
systems, the confidentiality, integrity and authenticity of the data must be
ensured. For Stefan Soutschek, security and the Industrial Internet of Things
(IIoT) are no contradiction: The special machinery department follows a
“security-by-design” approach here, which is realized in close cooperation with
the corporate security team. When new services are developed, this is carried out
exclusively under this approach. In case of doubt, though, this could be the
knockout criterion for a new system; so far, Soutschek has not had that happen.
However, suppliers, too, must ensure that their components meet the high
security requirements. At Siemens, for example, the product development process
for network components is certified by the TÜV.
The cross-functional collaboration not only affects internal specialist departments, but likewise changes the customer-supplier relationship towards an in-depth partnership.
Challenging from a security perspective are
the suppliers’ objective to run their own clouds for the machines supplied by
them. Schaeffler certainly sees the advantages, if manufacturers can optimize
their own components. For example, Siemens: Since SIMATIC and SINUMERIK
controllers are in use worldwide, Siemens is in the best position to make
optimization – but requires the data from the field to do so. “Here, we will
find solutions, because the manufacturers can make these specific improvements
much better,” states Soutschek. For example, a central messaging system is
conceivable, which passes on the information via cloud-to-cloud connections in
a controlled manner.
Strong partnerships help with the
To implement its ambitious digitalization
strategy, the special machinery department, of course, needs strong partners.
Schaeffler has been working with Siemens as technology supplier for over 30
years – from standard SIMATIC and SINUMERIK systems all the way to
collaborative problem solving at the management level. Here it shows: The
cross-functional collaboration not only affects internal specialist
departments, but likewise changes the customer-supplier relationship towards an
How may digital connectivity improve your business as well? More on the web: www.siemens.com/digital-connectivity
(more about the fair here: 30 years of SPS).